Schools now receiving ‘excess’ fund payments

LIVINGSTON -- Past problems with the tax foreclosure excess fund account have been resolved and local school districts are now receiving their share of the money, Polk County commissioners were told Tuesday.

During the commissioners meeting, County Court at Law Judge Tom Brown, District Clerk Bobbye Richards and local accountant Brian Jones presented a report on the tax foreclosure excess fund account as well as a check for over $110,000.

Brown explained that major problems within the account led him to appoint Jones as a special master to work with Richards to resolve the issues and that today, those problems have been resolved.
The account in question contains the “excess funds” received when a tax foreclosure property sells for more than the amount of the taxes that are due. Under the law, the previous owner can claim these excess funds within two years.

The district clerk’s office holds these funds in a special account and after the two years have elapsed, is supposed to disburse the “excess” amounts to the taxing entities that held an interest in the property.

However, in 2014 the county’s school districts came forward with complaints that they had not received their share of those funds for years. Eventually the issue resulted in the resignation of former

District Clerk Kathy Clifton in 2015 and the appointment of Richards to solve the problem.

“We owed the school districts hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Brown said. “It was a real mess and we’ve been working to straighten it out.”

The judge praised Richards and Jones for their work in establishing a system to prevent this problem from occurring in the future.

“Bobbye has put in new procedures and I can tell you that we are now completely in compliance with the tax code,” Brown added.

Richards then presented the county the check, which she described as the last of the “big checks,” adding that the local school districts, the Polk County Fresh Water District #2 and the city of Corrigan also were receiving payments to bring their excess funds up to date.

“From now on we will be making payments quarterly,” she said.

Jail medical care
During the meeting, commissioners reviewed proposals from three companies seeking to provided medical care in the Polk County Jail.

The county expects to spend about $550,000 on inmate medical care by the time the current budget year ends on Sept. 30 -- almost $80,000 over the budget -- and sought proposals from companies to see if there might be a more economical way of providing the required service. However, the proposals submitted would add over $1 million to the cost.

While agreeing that the system needs improvement, commissioners decided to look at alternatives such as increasing the jail’s medical staff from the current two, obtaining the services of a full-time physician’s assistant or working with the local hospital. Murphy agreed to explore those options and report back to the court at a later date.

Other business
During the meeting, the commissioner also:
Approved an agreement with Goodwin Lasiter and Strong to provide engineering services for the Taylor Lake Estates road erosion project being funded under a National Resources Conservation Service grant.

County tax rate hearings set

LIVINGSTON -- Final tweaks were made to Polk County’s proposed $30.1 million budget Tuesday before it was released for public review and hearings were scheduled to receive comments on the spending plan and the tax rate needed to support it.
Members of the Polk County Commissioners Court held a budget workshop at the end of their regular meeting to review changes made in recent days as more accurate information on expenses and income became available.
Under state law, commissioners were required to take a recorded vote on the proposed tax rate for the coming year, although final adoption of that rate will not occur until after two public hearings. The four commissioners and the county judge all voted for a proposed tax rate of $0.6461 per $100 in assessed tax value -- which is the same rate the county used to support the fiscal year 2017 budget.
However, because the rate is higher than the effective tax rate of $0.626602 per $100 in value, by law this constitutes a tax increase and public hearings must be held. The “effective” rate is essentially the amount the county would need to generate the same income as it did during the prior year.
The public hearings on the proposed tax rate will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 22, and at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 5, in the commissioners courtroom on the third floor of the Polk County Courthouse in Livingston. A final public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 12, also in the commissioners courtroom. Commissioners are then expected to adopt the budget, which will go into effect on Oct. 1.
A copy of the proposed budget is expected to be posted this week on the county’s website at .

Although not part of the official budget, commissions reviewed and made changes to the capital expense requests made by the various departments. Normally, during the course of the year as major purchases are made for vehicles, computer equipment and other items, the amount is added to a continuing resolution and at the end of the year the court approves issuing seven-year tax notes to reimburse the general fund for those purchases.

County Judge Sydney Murphy said that during the coming year, they are anticipating some major purchases that would mean a higher than normal reimbursement. She noted County Clerk Schelana Hock has requested new voting equipment to replace the equipment purchased in 2006 for which parts and maintenance are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.

Overall, a total of $1,270,338 in possible capital purchases were submitted by the various department heads for the coming year -- including about $600,000 for the new voting equipment.

Murphy indicated she was not comfortable with a figure that high and suggested it be cut back to about $1 million and the four commissioners agreed. After discussing it with the various department heads, the commissioners agreed to cut back on the number of vehicles it would purchase for the sheriff, maintenance and county agent departments.

Pole vault champ wins legislative honors


Livingston High School freshmen athlete Montana Piper was presented with special proclamations from both the Texas and U.S. house of representatives Tuesday, honoring her for winning the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics pole vault championship last month in California.

During the meeting of the Polk County Commissioners Court, State Rep. James White (R-Hillister) and U.S. Rep. Brian Babin (R-Woodville) each presented the young athlete with the proclamations and each voiced their praise for her skill with the pole vault.

During the July 25-31 meet, the 14-year-old vaulted to a height of 11-feet, 1.75-inches to claim the national championship among girls in the 13-14 age division.

White noted her height would have taken top honors in the 15-16 age group.

“I was watching the Olympics on television last night and learned that our team had a record number of women athletes competing. This is something for which we can take pride and I believe that in a few years we will be watching Montana in these games,” White added.

Babin noted that he also is looking forward to watching the young athlete compete in future Olympic games.

“That she is such a good athlete should not be a surprise to anyone,” Babin said of Piper. “I understand her grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts have all been accomplished athletes.”

Piper, the daughter of Bubba and Coby Piper of Livingston, currently has her eye set on breaking the world record in pole vault for girls in the 13-14 age group. She has until January to break the current mark of 12-feett, 3-inches.

Commissioners---piperSPECIAL RECOGNITION – Livingston freshman Montana Piper was recognized Tuesday during the Polk County Commissioners Court meeting when U.S. Rep. Brian Babin and State Rep. James White presented her with proclamations honoring her on her national pole vaulting championship. Pictured above are (L-R) Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet, Pct. 1 Commissioner Bob Willis, Babin, Piper, White, County Judge Sydney Murphy, Pct. 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent and Pct. 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis.

Corrigan approves billing software

UDS LogoThe Corrigan City County approved a contract for new utility billing and expense software at a cost of about $6,800 during their meeting last week.
City Manager Darian Hardman reported that since the city implemented new accounting software, they needed to update the other software to be more compatible with the new system. Hardeman pointed out the municipal court has been using the system being recommended for the utility billing and expenses for some time and it merges perfectly with the new accounting software.

In addition to the initial cost, Utility Data Systems of Texas will have a yearly maintenance fee to be determined once all facets are functioning normally.
Municipal Judge Wayne Yankie told council he’s been working with this company for quite some time now and is quite satisfied with their product and the work. Council voted to enter into a contract for the new software by unanimous vote.

During the meeting, Hudman and City Secretary Connie Cosper also answered questions, as council reviewed the June financial statements. Hudman pointed out there were still some inconsistencies between the actual bank balance, which is higher in the bank, and the figures printed on the current sheet. He said the next item on the agenda would address it. After a thorough review, council accepted the financial reports for the month.

The department reports have expanded under Mayor Johnna Lowe Gibson’s leadership and Judge Yankie led off by saying his office had 10 alcohol-related cases in June, 46 misdemeanors that were not traffic, one city ordinance violation and 689 traffic cases adjudicated for a very busy court month. Yankie said two of his clerks have attended certification training in Austin and one of his part-time clerks has indicated they would like to take training at the next opportunity.

Police Chief Darrell Gibson reported they made 39 arrests in June, wrote 1,259 citations and responded to 251 calls for service. In addition, 22 new cases were worked and 27 cases were presented to the district attorney for prosecution. There were total of six accidents and no fatalities during the 30 days of June.
Volunteer fire department Lt. Thomas Spurlock reported total of 10 calls in June, three for structure fires, two for business structure fires, one jaws-of-life call to extract someone from a situation and four medical assistance calls. During the month, there were mutual aid responses from the Livingston, Scenic Loop and Onalaska volunteer fire departments related to the fire at the Corrigan-Camden Independent School District vocational education building. Spurlock thanked all other departments for their assistance in responding to these calls.

Gibson indicated she and Hudman have met with a grant writer to develop a request for funds to expand and revamp the sewer system. Hudman also reported he’s been meeting with county officials and FEMA representatives to get funds to repair some of the roads damaged by the spring rains.
When asked about the parks committee, Hudman said they have not met recently, but he has added some $7,000 to the parks and recreation fund for future use and that committee would be meeting in the near future. Councilman Thompson was insured she is on that committee.

Solar electric generating facility proposed

first-solar-logoLIVINGSTON – A move to build a solar electric generating plant in Polk County took a step forward Tuesday when the Polk County Commissioners Court approved the creation of a reinvestment zone for possible tax abatement.

The zone, located on 18,000 acres east of the Lake Livingston Dam off FM 1988, is in the process of being leased by First Solar, Inc. and plans are being developed to build a 50 to 100 megawatt generating facility using solar panels. It was noted that by building close to the dam, the First Solar plant could take advantage of the power distribution lines being installed to serve the hydroelectric plant now under construction at the dam.

Karl Pierce of First Solar’s Houston office told commissioners the size and generating capacity of the proposed Goodrich Solar project would be determined by what kind of contracts they could obtain from electrical distribution companies such as Entergy. He indicated the facility would be designed to meet the needs of the initial contracts and if the distribution companies needed additional power in the future, it would be expanded.

The overall value of the project would range from $45 to $120 million depending on its size.
He noted that in seeking tax abatement for the first 10 years of the facility’s life, they would be asking the county to waive certain requirements.

He noted that the county normally asks that at least 10 permanent, full-time jobs be created before they would agree to grant tax abatement. He explained this type of power generating facility is controlled remotely by off-site operators who oversee a number of such plants. The actual number of on-site employees would only be one or two.

“We will have at least one person there to maintain the facility,” Pierce said. “There isn’t a lot of maintenance needed because there are almost no moving parts.”

It was noted that this was the industry standard for such a facility and other taxing entities have agreed to the lower employee numbers in the past.

Pierce noted the location of the facility is on the border between the Livingston and Goodrich independent school districts. Because almost all of it will be on the Livingston side of the line, that district would receive almost all of the tax benefits from the Goodrich Solar facility.

First Solar will be seeking a form of tax abatement from the district, which is overseen by the state. Even with the abatement, the company representatives said Livingston ISD would expect to receive at least $410,000 in revenue from the plant for the first 14 to 15 years of its operation with the exception of year three. That year the payment to the school would be in the $1.2 to $1.3 million range.

The initial benefit to the county was not clear and will not be until its final structure is set. Under state law, the county commissioners have more flexibility in structuring abatement plans.

The most recent abatement approved was for the RoyOMartin oriented strand board plant now under construction in Corrigan. That 10-year abatement plan grants a 100 percent tax break the first year and that figure “stair steps” down by 10 percent per year until the company is paying the full rate.

First Solar indicated it would be asking for a 100 percent abatement for 10 years and noted that under that plan that county could expect to collect $2.4 million from year 11 through year 25 – which is generally considered to be the life of the initial solar power cells. Any expansion of the plant would fall under a separate abatement agreement that would be negotiated at that time.

Other business

During the meeting, commissioners also:

Helped recognized Livingston firefighter Jake Dominy for his service during the rescue of a trapped victim in a July 6 log truck accident. Dominy spent two hours assisting Zulma Santiago, a passenger in the log truck, after she was pinned inside the vehicle’s cab when it overturned on FM 943. Rachel Inlesias, regional director for U.S. Rep. Brian Babin of Woodville, presented Dominy with a certificate from Babin for his service during the accident.

Received the 2015 Off-System Bridge Inspection Report from Nancy Smith of the Texas Department of Transportation. Smith noted the county has about 100 bridges that were inspected and no major issues were detected. “You all are doing a good job,” she said.

Approved a variance to exempt a 40.44-acre tract from the county’s subdivision regulations. Pct. 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent noted that the developer was breaking the property into four lots, each over 10-acres in size and all with access to existing public roads. He noted there would be no common areas or additional streets constructed.

Closed the county’s Fiscal Year 2016 Reimbursement Resolution and authorized $128,087 in tax warrants to cover the spending authorized during the past year.

‘State of the district’ report presented to LISD board

The Livingston Independent School District’s board of trustees heard the superintendent’s address and reports that included campus ratings and personnel in the June monthly meeting Monday.

During the meeting, Livingston Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins gave a “state of the district” address for the school district that included a handout reporting on several topics.

This is the 13th year that Texas school districts are reporting the results of the state’s financial accountability system, Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST), which includes the evaluation of seven criteria. Livingston ISD has received the superior achievement rating for the current reporting period, which is for the 2014-2015 school year. Livingston ISD also received a clean unmodified financial audit for the 2014-2015 school year.

Tax Ratification Election
Voter approval of a tax ratification issue allowed the district to move $0.13 from the Interest & Sinking account to the Dallas/Austin Penny Category. This swap generated an additional $775,000 annually for Livingston Independent School District. It decreased the 2014-2015 tax rate of $1.395 and lowered it to $1.39. The change increased the Maintenance & Operating Tax from $1.04 to $1.17 and decreased the Interest & Sinking tax from $0.355 to $0.22. The change created a decrease from a total tax rate of $1.395 to $1.39.

The additional funds generated by the tax ratification passage allowed Livingston ISD to retain personnel, adjust the teacher salary schedule to remain competitive and expand the dual credit program at Livingston High School.

The tennis program has been active for 13 years and before the courts were completed, students were bused to the city’s Matthews Street Park, where a time slot was reserved and others waited for them to finish. The new eight-court complex hosted Crosby, Splendora, Liberty, Shepherd and Diboll, as Livingston placed second on March 24.

The purchase of Texas Slam in the amount of $1 million was made after the district was given a quote of $4 million to construct a similar facility. LISD has entered into a three-year lease for a revenue to the district of $90,000, which will cover the costs of maintenance, upkeep, water, sewer and electricity. LISD will now have concession rights and priority events.  

The board approved the purchase of five new school buses in the amount of $437,015. This purchase allowed the removal of the oldest buses in the fleet. The new buses are 77-passenger buses and more accommodating for larger routes than current 72-passenger options.

Through the efforts of Craig Manning of Red Barn Builders Supply and Danny Moseley of Moseley Construction, the dream of Katie’s Pier was realized. Katie was the daughter of Danny and Frances Moseley. Katie drew inspiration from being near the water and the pier was constructed out of love for her. A ceremony was held to dedicate the pier on the Livingston Intermediate School campus. It will be primarily used for fishing, which is part of the physical education class curriculum for fourth and fifth graders.

Infrastructure improvements in the amount of $295,000 were made this year to connect the campuses and increase speed of the Internet ten times, while upgrading necessary equipment to support the $632,000 spent on Chromebooks for students in fourth through twelfth grades. The technology department replaced projectors with 65-inch LED monitors, enabling a clearer display and requiring less maintenance.

The district added additional content filters that allow students to take the devices home, while still filtered under school and federal policies. The filters have been relaxed to encourage students to take responsibility when they are online. The teacher controls one filter, where they are able to see and control what student’s access while they are in the classroom.   

Technology integration has increased the number of devices on the elementary campuses during the spring semester, while also increasing training for teachers. Decisions are being made as to what teachers find most beneficial in their classrooms.

Full Day Pre-K
This year the district had an increase of Pre-Kindergarten enrollment of over 30 percent from last year at the three elementary campuses. In 2014-2015, there were 123 students enrolled in the Pre-K program. This school year saw that number rise to 162.

Dual Credit
The 2015-2016 school year allowed 122 Livingston High School juniors and seniors to enroll in Angelina College courses for the fall semester. The courses cost $320 per semester, per class. Livingston ISD pays this fee with the additional funds received after the passage of the Tax Ratification Election. The district has historically paid for the textbooks needed for the college courses, but this is the first semester that Livingston ISD has picked up the tuition costs for English, government and U.S. history. The goal of the dual credit initiative is to expose high school students to at least 20 college hours. Studies show that any student completing 20 college hours or more will continue with their college education until a certification is earned.

LHS Academy
Services have been provided to 139 students during the 2015-2016 school year. Of that, 61 students received diplomas during the 2015-2016 school year and 48 students attended the district graduation in June. One student was the recipient of a Green and White Scholarship. Students in the program were at one point two years behind on academic work.

There are 4,039 students enrolled in LISD schools. Among elementary schools, Cedar Grove has 394, 553 in Pine Ridge and 533 in Timber Creek. Livingston Intermediate has 632, while the junior high has 889. Livingston High has a total of 1,003 students and LHS Academy has 35.

There are 3,130 economically disadvantaged students and 450 in special education. The gifted and talented program has 226 students and there are 433 English language learners.

In other business, Hawkins also discussed the personnel change that the district experiences each summer. He said the amount of hiring the district has undergone this year is a more manageable number than in years past, especially when considering the number of retirees.

“I believe this morning we had 12 openings in the district,” Hawkins said. “When I went to work here two years ago in June, there were 40-something openings in the district. Our principals and directors have done an excellent job of making personnel a priority, making hiring a priority, and (human resources) have made that a priority — and I appreciate that. It comes down to people, and people with outstanding training meeting the needs of those we serve.”

Teachers are said to have reported that they are happier at their job and the compensation they receive has improved.

The board reviewed ratings for its campuses. Each principal on a campus takes a team or uses a committee to evaluate themselves in nine categories, scoring from zero to three. A three represents an “exemplary” score, while zero is “unacceptable.” The ratings are eventually reported to TEA.

All campuses at least met the acceptable goal — or a one. No campus overall was rated “exemplary,” though the junior high and high school were close. Every elementary was thought to be highly recognized — which is a two.

Among the factors the district is graded upon are digital learning environment, dropout prevention strategies, and community and parental involvement, where the district as a whole scored “exemplary.” A “recognized” rating was assigned for fine arts.

Others areas of focus included wellness and physical education, 21st century workforce development, educational programs for gifted and talented students, and second language acquisition program — where the district had an “acceptable” rating.

The board also adopted a new mathematics course beginning Fall 2016. The course, “algebraic reasoning,” will be taught after completion of algebra I for selected students. The TEKS covered in the course will address the areas of algebra I that are needed for success on the algebra EOC and to better prepare students going into algebra II.